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Good fences make good neighbors, and nowhere is this more true than in your romantic relationship. But many people hide their stance on a subject, or at least soften it, to be more likable at the start of a new relationship.
“I like hanging out with your family every weekend.”
“Your vegetarianism is no problem for me. I hardly eat meat now anyway.”
“Sure, we can keep the lights off.”
Over time, it becomes too difficult to move that boundary back to where it feels right for you, whether you’re talking about how much time to spend with your in-laws or how much sex you want to have. And it’s confusing to your partner, who thought you liked things this way because you always went along with it before.
Perversely, you make your life less desirable in order to be more desirable to your partner.
Over the years, this can get messy and you might eventually complain that the love of your life doesn’t really know you at all. But if you aren’t stating your boundaries and desires up front, how could your beau know?
The Difference Between Walls and Fences
Walls are built to keep people out, figuratively and literally. You can’t see inside someone’s house unless they invite you in, and even within a home each room is blocked from view unless you enter it. When you hide something from someone, you are walling it off.
Fences, on the other hand, are built to maintain a peaceful coexistence with others. You can usually see right through a fence because it is simply a demarcation of the boundaries of your property. It’s a public statement on where you stand on issues.
Your fence keeps soul sucking people who would disrespect you on the outside. They will go find an unfenced property to do their damage, not willing to expend the effort to climb yours (soul suckers are nothing if not lazy).
Fences are also easily moved or enlarged when a property is expanded, unlike walls which mean a reconfiguration of the entire house.
Walls destroy a relationship. Fences make it stronger.
How to Determine Your Boundaries
1: Know Where You Stand
The key to setting your boundaries lies first in identifying them yourself. If you don’t know what you want, how in the heck will anyone else? This is no time for guessing games, with yourself or with your mate. And be very, very careful of the “I don’t really care” mentality because in truth you really do, about everything. You just don’t care about making a fuss right now.
It’s important that people should know what you stand for. It’s equally important that they should know what you won’t stand for. ~ Mary H. Waldrip
So give a damn now and you won’t be damning your partner in the future. Think about how you really feel about every new situation or question and answer honestly and thoughtfully. Because what you say and do now determines what kind of life you’ll be living later.
2: Identify Boundary Breaches
Sometimes it takes a while for a message to sink in. It’s not usually because your one true love doesn’t care. Your partner just needs firm reminders of your boundaries. You can do this gently at first with a pretty white picket fence surrounded by flowers and escalate all the way up to barbed wire and electricity if you need to (though at that point it might just be better to ask them to move).
Everyone pushes a falling fence. ~ Chinese proverb
Demanding the respect you deserve takes diligence on your part. Again, most of the time this is a simple and clear reminder to people.
No, I don’t want to do that.
It’s not okay for you to talk to me this way.
You said you would do this and I depend on you to honor your word.
When you allow your boundaries to be breached again and again you’re telling the other person it’s okay to be late, to not follow through on their commitments, or to otherwise disregard your feelings. But when people know there are consequences – “I’ll wait for you for 10 minutes, but if you’re later than that I’ll leave without you” – they can no longer breach with impunity.
You cannot control the actions of others, but you can certainly control your own.
3: Survey your property
When you live a life of experience, your boundaries will change because you will. You’ll grow and evolve, and so will many of your preferences. It’s important to regularly survey your boundaries to make sure they still fit. Your requirements for intimacy, communication, social activity, exercise, education, and entertainment will evolve with life and circumstances, and you have to be clear with yourself and your partner when they do.
Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up. ~ Robert Frost
Continually poking at your own boundaries will make it easier to explain them to others.
How to Establish Boundaries
- Know where you stand on the important issues. When you know for sure how you want to be treated, it makes it easier to clearly state this to another person. Begin by asking yourself every day if you’re okay with what’s going on around you. If not, why? If it’s not clear to you, it won’t be clear to your partner.
- State your boundaries along with a consequence. “I understand you are really frustrated at work right now, but I’m not okay with you taking it out on me when you get home. I’m not your enemy here. The next time it happens I’m going to suggest you burn it off at the gym and I’m going to leave the room.” You can’t control the other person’s actions, but you can control your response.
- Test your boundaries. As you evolve as a human, your priorities and feelings will change. It’s important to question yourself on a regular basis to make sure the beliefs and ideas you hold are still true. When your boundaries change, it’s time to move your fences and let your partner know.
Laying the groundwork of a successful relationship takes some work, but it is far easier in the long run than relying on mind reading and wild guesses. Unless you’re a Drama Queen, of course.
Editor’s Note: This is part of an occasional series titled, The 24/7 Relationship: Lessons on Life, Love, and Laughter. If you think this would benefit your friends, please share it on your favorite social media network.